The heart picks up…

I woke up to gentle nudges from my mother.

‘Uthe por. Khela shuru hobe, dekhbi na? (Wake up, the game is going to start. Won’t you watch it?)

I used to wake up, rub my eyes and turn my attention to the already blaring TV set. A football match between two countries was set to begin in a World Cup tournament. It was perhaps 2 or 3 in the morning, and most likely I had school the next day. Yet, she woke me up. Yet, she let me watch. When my father chided about school and health, she said, ‘There will always be school, but Football World Cup comes around every four years!’ I have seen very few football enthusiasts like my mother and thankfully, she has passed on her zeal for the game to me. I learnt the rules of offside, the different positions of footballers and other nuances of the game from her. Football, for me, is so much more than just a game. It is the companionship of my mother and sometimes father, sipping cups of tea in the middle of week night and watching athletes fight it out over the possession of a ball on the field. It is the resounding GOAAAAAAAAL erupting in the neighborhood at the dark hours of night when a foreign team scored (India never had a team to field in the global arena and still does not). It is the collective joy of our favored team’s win. It is the combined sadness of an entire community when our favorite team lost. Football was my first means to connect with the world without quite being aware of it. It certainly was a means to bond with my football crazy city of Kolkata.

I grew up in those dark days of no internet and no cable. Our entertainments were limited to newspapers, magazines, and the limited shows that Doordarshan provided on television. But those were enough to fire up our fervor for football. After watching an early morning football game we would go to school and analyze each shot, each miss, each corner, each penalty. We would defend our favorite soccer player and berate the opponents. We read up the sports pages and spouted statistics to impress. During lunch and recess, we would take a temporary break from playing basketball and kick around a soccer ball pretending to be Zico or Zidane. We would talk of nothing else. What else was there to talk about when the World cup was being fought over in the global arena? We lived in football haze. And how we loved that. We would get home, finish our evening chores, get to bed and set the alarm for the next game. My mother, I remember, watched the game and cooked the next day’s meal before dawn so she could rest the following day. This became our routine for the entire month. We lived during the night and drooped during the day. We were football owls.

The road side dadas (local neighborhood boys) hung the flags of their respective teams by the roadside and set up shrines to their football teams complete with garlanded photographs of the footballers. Our paara (neighborhood) donned the yellow and green of Brazil. Our next paara sported blue and white of Argentina. There were trash talks galore:

‘Ja, ja neche neche goal debo toder!’ (Get lost, we will dance into your goals!)

‘Dekhe nebo, dekhe nebo toder!’ (We shall see!)

All good-natured, all in good humor. But these built up the ambiance and that whole month of the tournament was nothing like ordinary times. Most of my friends, family, acquaintances were caught up in football fever. Our schedules, lives, homework, jobs rotated around the schedules of our favorite teams. In public buses and trains complete strangers either bonded over Bebeto’s crib dance or exchanged heated words over Maradona’s controversial goal. There was either hate or love in my world, there was very little indifference. You were either a friend or a foe. There was nothing in between. There must have been folks who did not care for our frenzy. For us, they simply faded into oblivion – for that month. And after the Final game was played and the after the Champion team lifted the trophy, we walked around for a few days in a daze, lost, dejected and unsure of what to say when football talk died down. Commuters looked forlornly out of the windows in silence and snapped at fellow commuters, we picked up the basketball again in school, we lovingly looked at our scrapbooks full of pictures and statistics of the World Cup tournament till we put them away and forgot about them, our mothers became the dragon ladies, stickler for rules and disciplines. And life, for a while, lost its color. Till the next craze – local football, Wimbledon, cricket whatever. And the fan frenzy returned with a vengeance.

I am a middle aged woman now as Soccer world cup 2014 gets underway, living in a country where soccer is not a religion. I am a chauffeur, chef, educator, counselor, disciplinarian, hugs giver – or in one word, a mother. I don’t have enough time to indulge in football frenzy anymore. Yet, I can’t seem to help it. I have the schedule posted on my refrigerator wall, I have the games highlighted, I have time set aside. And thanks to Facebook, I get to watch the game with my fellow enthusiasts who are scattered all over the world. We discuss the game, we berate teams, we trash talk, we laugh together and we plan which games to watch together virtually. It is not the same as watching it with my mother in the middle of night and with the entire neighborhood, but it works quite well.

I surprise my new friends with my soccer zeal. Do you even know anything about the footballers in the Brazil team that you are cheering for, they ask! I do not know a thing! I do not have any statistics or any information on the players of Brazil memorized anymore, but does that really matter? The support for my team is not dependent on any of that. I say Brazil will win simply because I believe. Yes, they were the world champions five times, yes they play amazingly beautiful football but most importantly the faith comes straight from the heart. The heart does not care for numbers or reason. It just remembers the passion of the past, the moments that I have lived during past Football World Cups and it simply picks up from there.

And non soccer enthusiasts? I love you deeply, I really do but you simply do NOT exist for me till July 13th 2014. I hope you don’t mind. It is not personal. 🙂

I love men.

‘You know, I love men!’ I said this to my husband as we took a leisurely stroll on the eve of our anniversary. If I had said this on the eve of our first anniversary, my husband may have raised his eyebrows. But we have been married for seventeen years and time has made Sean immune to my eccentricities. He takes them all in his stride and puts up with it all, with a chuckle.

‘That’s wonderful! I am glad you love one half of the humanity. Is there a specific reason?’ He wanted to know. He was humoring me, I know. But I never let an opportunity to talk, pass. Honest confession, I am chatty.

Having made the generic statement – I love men, let me qualify. My love for men is not unconditional. For instance, I don’t love those men who feel empowered by hurting women, children and animals. But then, I don’t love women who do those things either. I do not claim to understand men completely. I sometimes find them condescending, specially towards women who talk about sports. Sometimes their denseness frustrates me. I don’t understand why it is so hard to admit ‘yes, I am cold’ in sub-zero temperature and what is the point of arguing with the GPS in the car about directions. It is a machine (with a woman’s voice) giving directions, for crying out loud! And I certainly don’t love the man, who flipped me the bird, when I refused to take a left hand turn and throw my car in front of aggressive, oncoming traffic, the other day!!! That guy needs anger management classes and safe driving lessons. After those, I may consider including him in this love fest.

Anyway, as I sat in one of Ryan’s baseball practices, I watched men, protected behind my shades. The men I watched were dads of Ryan’s teammates. They were teachers, corporate high-flyer, lawyers or physicians in their real lives. But as their cars pulled into the parking lot of the ball park and they donned their baseball gloves to throw with their sons, they seem to be stripped of their adult careers, adult responsibilities and became 8/9 year olds themselves. When their sons ran to their coaches, the dads started throwing amongst each other, without stopping to introduce themselves and without missing any of the continuity. As I sat on the bleachers and eavesdropped, I heard stories of high school sports and glory days of their yesteryear. information about each other were exchanged as the ball flew between them. A sort of friendship slowly emerged while the ball was being thrown and caught. This seamless integration with each other, I notice, when Ryan or boys of his age go to any social setting. No words are necessary to become a part of a team and start throwing a ball. The men have the same formula for integration, I observed. This quality is so natural and so endearing. They parted with a hearty handshake, a hard clap on each other’s back and with a ‘see ya at the game’ – their sons’ game over the weekend. Ryan becomes part of a team every season. So does his dad – he becomes a part of a team of dads, men who enjoy coaching, throwing the ball, practicing, helping the little boys in their baseball skills and perhaps, reliving their own Little League days. I have heard horror stories of parents taking their passion for their children’s games too far, but I haven’t witnessed any nastiness….yet!

The moms are different. We introduce ourselves, ‘Hi, I am _____, I am _______’s mom.’ That is our identity, at least on the ball park. The moms, generally, don’t talk about their highschool sports or their own athletic prowess. They talk about schedules, and the different sports their children play, the amount of homework they get, whether they are in the gifted/talented program. Moms bring dinners at the ball park so there is one less thing to do when they get home. They keep an eye on the siblings who are just tag along. The mommies organize the volunteer snack schedule, who will be the team mom during the game. They keep the children from climbing the fence, throwing gloves at each other, they make sure the boys stay hydrated. They arrange for carpools so they can take their other children to their respective practices. They pull their husbands away from the game and remind them when Joey needs to be picked up or where Samantha needs to be dropped off. The husband turns to his mates and winks, ‘I don’t know any of the schedules, I just do what the boss tells me to!’ That evokes communal mirth among the men and empathic nods and smiles.

Girls grow up faster than boys and very rarely revisit their childhood. The moms are busy holding it together. Men do. They can become little boys from time to time, as THEIR little boys/girls play baseball, football, lacrosse. Then as they drive out of the sports arena, reality sets in, and the men become dads again. Childhood waits…till the next practice or game.

When the game got boring…

Baseball aficionados, I know the above statement is akin to blasphemy – mea culpa. We took the family to see an Orioles vs Tigers baseball game last evening to do something fun for them. Fun in our household is a very complex commodity these days. What is fun for my seven-year old son is extremely ‘unfun’ and most boring for my almost 13-year-old daughter. We watched a movie of her choice recently, so we decided to go to a ball game for Ryan this weekend. Gotta balance the ‘fun’. She made it amply clear to us by words, gestures and facial expressions that she was going under protest. I told her that her displeasure has been noted, we understand she is unhappy about the situation but can we please move on and make an effort to have a good time? Give ‘good time’ a chance, maybe? Stony silence.

We entered the beautiful Camden yards and five boxes of Jimmy Palmer’s statue were thrust in our hands before we could even say a word. I was almost waving the lady away who was offering these boxes to spectators frantically, but my pack rat husband, who loves freebies, nudged me ‘take it, take it’! A rumor followed this gift by the ball park, that these statues were selling for $50 on eBay. The cloud lifted from my mercenary (in a good way) daughter’s face. She suddenly got very interested in making sure we were holding our boxes securely. She pooh poohed my annoyance at having to carry the clunky box around with ‘MOM, think of all the money we are carrying around! I am going to sell these on eBay!”

We found our seats, did the usual Tan ta tan ta taan CHARGE..thing with the rest of the crowd, clapped when players made good catches, shouted “YEAHs” and “GO ORIOLES” with the crowd, participated in Mexican waves. I almost threw the ice in my cup at my fellow spectator in my enthusiasm to raise my hands and stand up to continue the wave in our section of the stands. Then things started cooling down, for me. My eyes started wondering, I started getting into my serious ‘people watching’ mode. I love going to the ball park, 30 percent of the love is for the game and 70 percent love is to watch the people around me. Good folks of Camden yards did not disappoint. There was a very quiet, relatively well dressed group of young people sitting on my left, who were drinking moderately, and holding a quiet conversation. They weren’t clapping or seemed remotely interested in the game. The Orioles were winning 4 to 1 and the Detroit Tigers were striking out and going back without much fanfare. In the last inning, the Orioles made some errors. The quiet crowd on my left erupted in cheer, swishing their beer. They were Detroit fans trying to blend in with the Orioles crowd but showed their true colors (which also seemed orange like the O’s) when their team came back. The sneakiness! Oh!

Put your beautifully pedicured feet up and watch a ball game.

In the front row, some young folks had probably come on their first date. There was a lot of giggling, lots and lots of it. It could have been all that Nati bo (National Bohemian beer, I later found out) that they were buying from the vendors. And the girls kept getting up to bring food for the men, or use the restroom or whatever. No matter what they did, they made sure everything was followed by a sharp pitched giggle.


There was a little boy, about 3 years old, who danced on his chair almost the entire time, much to our amusement. The parents held on to the chair for dear life since he swatted their hands away when they tried to hold him. Nobody was allowed to come between him and his wild moves!!! Step way back mom and dad!

The Camden yards has this tradition of Kiss Cam. When the camera shows you, you have to kiss the person next to you. When the Kiss Cam came on, Sahana pushed Sean and I together and longingly looked at the big screen hoping they would focus on us. It didn’t, but we kissed anyway. Ryan, in the midst of all this, was completely focused on the game, except when he was hungry.

Talk about a nail biting finish!

His father promised to buy him some food after 10 outs. So he started counting outs irrespective of the team. Point to be noted here is, he is a fanatic Orioles fan. Yet, he started celebrating their outs at that point as each out brought him closer to the promised food. I teased him about his solidarity with his team. Hungry stomach and teasing don’t go well together, I found out.

Beer flowing.

There was a very rowdy, beer guzzling group of men sitting right in front of us. They kept the scene interesting by pushing and shoving each other. The beers kept flowing and their transformation from men to kindergarten kids started hastening exponentially. They were ribbing each other, slapping each other’s faces playfully, play acting to snatch their neighbor’s beer and food as they went by them, eyeing some pink and purple haired girls on the other side and exchanging flirtatious comments. Then, to make the transformation to kindergarten age complete, one started naming a male private part for no apparent reason or necessity while his friends burst out laughing. Once the gentleman saw that he was eliciting so much amusement among his friends, he kept repeating the word. My son, finally, turned his head from the game to give these grown ups a strange look. I, at this point, was getting seriously concerned about how many drunk men and women will be unleashed into the city and behind the wheels going home or wherever. These men were clearly very drunk and in no condition to drive. As the game stretched on into overtime, I overheard one of my drunk friends saying they needed to get to a club and they should get going. Another commented they can go if their designated driver was ready. Designated driver? I saw an older gentleman, who, I didn’t think was with the group, rising up to escort them out. The responsibility they showed just raised them in my eyes. They had come to have a good time. Their drunkenness was not malicious in any way. Apart from the unnecessary use of the name of the private part, they didn’t bother any of the other spectators. They helped Ryan cross over some seats so he could go to the front row, AND they had thought about bringing a designated driver to take them back. I waved them goodbye cheerfully and wished them “Have a nice evening!” They were going to a bar, so I assumed more alcohol in their systems. But one less group of people to worry about, phew! These guys are drinking responsibly! Pedestrians and other drivers are safe from this group, at least for one night.

Play ball, girl!

I was standing in the short- stop position on a beautiful, starlit night in Delhi at a woman’s softball game at the American club. I had my glove on, grit and determination written all over my face, crouched, ready position just like our coach said. I was ready to pounce on the ball if it came my way. And for those who may not be aware of the importance of the short- stop field position, let me clarify that it is a very important position to field at, and generally the best athlete on the team gets to play at that place…. just saying:)! I guess, I also should admit, we ALL had to play ALL positions during the game.

Sean got me into softball primarily to stop a nagging wife from grumbling that he was spending way too much time playing sports. He has this terrific ability of making me feel like I am making all the decisions but when I take a moment to reflect on things, I figure out, I am doing exactly what HE wanted me to do all along. I am sure he will give you lessons on this if you want any! Works out great for him! So he decided to entice me into joining the women’s softball team in the American Club in New Delhi. I am moderately athletic, I had given birth six weeks ago and was carrying a substantial amount of baby weight which I was desperate to lose. I gave in.

Having played some and watched a lot of cricket growing up, I thought, how difficult could softball be. I thought wrong. The bat is a stick, not a paddle, you hold it up over your shoulder at a precarious position, and you swing as the ball comes your way. You miss mostly, and swing around. Not you! You may be fantastic at it, its me! I used to swing at air and go around 360 degrees before coming to a stop. Hilarious really.

We practised a lot. The coach was very patient with me and helped me learn the nuances of the game. Since I was somewhat athletic, I got the hang of it pretty quickly. I played an inning, came out to nurse six weeks old Sahana, handed the baby back to Sean and ran back in the field to play. People saw me and exclaimed ‘This is what women playing ball is all about!’

On this particular night, I was pumped. The field was green and beautiful, the overhead lights transformed the night into day, we had a decent amount of beer guzzling crowd cheering us on. I had a good feeling we were on to something. The best batter of the enemies sauntered in to bat. The captain yelled, ‘She is a hitter! Take a step back all!’ We backed up some. I relaxed a bit, since I knew the batter would hit it either out of the ball park or hit it so hard, the outfielders would be scampering after the ball. This one would be an outfielder’s problem. We, in fielders, were safe! I desperately wanted to gaze at the dandelions growing nearby, but decided against it so as not to get hit by the ball!

The pitcher looked around, saw us in our uncomfortable, crouching, ready position and pitched her first pitch. Ball! For the non softball lovers, that is a bad pitch. She got ready and pitched her second. And the batter let it rip. At the resounding crack of the ball hitting the bat, I moved mainly out of instinct. There was a loud roar from the spectators. I was frantically looking around me running hither and thither looking for the ball, till my team mates ran towards me with joyful faces. What the heck? Why were they zeroing in on me instead of fielding the ball, the batter must be running all four bases now and scoring. The women started thumping my back congratulating me while I screamed, ‘What is going on??? Where is the ball!!!’ A few seconds of silence, before the captain lifted my gloved hand, and showed me the softball safely nestled in my glove! I had caught the ball and got the batter out, and I had no clue! I looked up to see the batter walking back to the dugout. Instead of feeling the joy, I felt like an idiot!

The next bit, I heard from my husband, who almost threw the baby up in the air, when I instinctively made that awesome catch…. without my knowledge! When I picked up the ball, a couple of beer drinking men shouted, ‘Did she f***ing make that catch!!! That is unbelievable! Wow!’ Then, when they saw me looking around frantically for the ball, having no idea that it was in my glove, they said, ‘What is she doing?’ At this point, Sean’s jubilation at having such an athletic wife, albeit clueless was dying down a bit. He turned to the men and said, ‘She doesn’t know she has the ball!’

‘Huh? How do you know?’ They asked, obviously puzzled.

‘I know…. she is my wife!’ My loving husband responded!